Friday, 8 May 2020
Dermots lesson for learning
For weeks I had been coveting this exquisite artefact through the grimy window of the seedy bike shop. Against the background of the oil-soaked wooden floor and cobweb-festooned rafters, the externally flywheeled wonder shone like a diamond of incomparable magnificence; well, I imagined it did. Never before had I wanted something so much. Eventually, I was able to find the £4 deposit on the purchase price of £12/17/6 - an absolute fortune for me and much more than I thought the machine was worth but I was determined to have it. And the curmudgeonly proprietor knew this so, despite the length of time which the machine had been on his books (and that should have told me something), he wouldn't budge. After a couple of weeks hedging and ditching for the local council and with some cash provided by a kindly uncle, I raised the balance and became the deliriously proud owner of a 1936 GTP Velo.
Of course, it was not long before the euphoria of first love began to evaporate in the light of reality. The machine puttered along satisfactorily enough for a few weeks and I enjoyed my ownership of what, in truth, was a pretty horrid contraption although it was evident that it once had been a much better bike. Our progressions were attended by an increasingly dense plume which would not have disgraced a vessel of Her Majesty's Grey Funnel Line; the little Velocette "made smoke", the volume of which, even in the days before we discovered we had an environment, was embarrassingly excessive. Trips did not necessarily end at the chosen destination but more usually when the spark plug cried "enough!" and all went deathly quiet. The machine had form in this regard because an erstwhile owner had fitted a plug adaptor so that those lovely old 18mm plugs which could be dismantled for cleaning might be used. It didn’t seem to help much.
A friend who was an apprentice diesel mechanic and therefore infinitely more knowledgeable than me, suggested the bike needed a "decoke". I had no idea what this process might be nor how to perform it but armed with what I could remember of his instructions given in a dimly-lit corner of the pub (I was under 21 at the time) and some borrowed tools, one Saturday morning I set about undoing every nut and bolt in sight until, spannered into submission, the engine surrendered its head.
Judge then, if you will, of my astonishment when I discovered that there was but one cylinder; I was mortified. Clearly, the man in the bike shop had seen me coming and had palmed me off with something different from what I was expecting - I had been tricked. However, I was upset about having been duped so easily and determined to tackle this duplicitous fellow. Thus, early Monday morning found me back at the bike shop as the proprietor was opening up. He saw me coming - again!
"I told you that there was no guarantee."
"I know that, but I do think you should have sold me a machine with its full complement of cylinders."
"Oh? How many cylinders does it have?"
"And how many cylinders do you think it should have?"
"Because it has two exhaust pipes."
"And two exhaust pipes means two cylinders?"
"Well, Sonny Jim . . . . . . "